Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 5 Most Unforgivable Razzie Snubs

Sure, it’s one thing to get all up in arms over the Academy Award nominations. They’re the industry-standard in terms of awards, and we all feel passionate about what encapsulates the best of any given year, and want to see those responsible for profoundly moving and wowing us rewarded accordingly.

But, strange as it may seem, I’m actually more outraged by the lack of effort put forth by the Razzie committee this calendar year. Apparently not interested in taking on the “true” worst of 2009, they’ve instead decided to take unimaginative pot-shots at easy targets like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Land of the Lost — films that weren’t so much godawful as mediocre.

Where’s the real crap, the tripe, the dreck, I ask? How is it that Transformers 2 chocked up multiple noms, while Dragonball: Evolution — a film unseen by me, but utterly loathed by the collective film-going audiences at large — managed to escape unscathed?

Justice I demand, and justice I shall enact with this all-mighty list of the most ludicrous snubs dealt out by the Razzie folks. After all, if I’m going to be made to suffer, I demand retribution for myself, and all the others misguided sap as foolish as me to buy a ticket in the first place.

5. Nicole Kidman, Nine, Worst Supporting Actress – As I stated in my Top 5 Lists of Oscar Snubs, Nine was something of a car-wreck redeemed only by a few good performances (Marion Cotillard and Fergie, predominantly) and the odd decent song. Conversely, Miss Kidman represented the very worst of both worlds, with her vacuous, Barbie Doll-like turn as Daniel Day-Lewis’ favorite silver screen muse and warbling, aneurysm-inducing rendition of “Unusual Way” (if you don’t believe me, sample it on iTunes. Just don’t blame me when you ears start bleeding) stinking up the cinema like Pepe Le Pew in a flower shop. It takes amazingly bad work to upstage the traumatic sight of Dame Judi Dench jiggling in a bustier, but Kidman more than delivers on that seemingly Herculean feat.

4. Sorority Row, Worst Remake, Rip-off or SequelG.I. Joe, Land of the Lost and Transformers 2? Seriously, you haven’t felt the stinging pains of violent agony and disgusted outrage until you’ve endured Sorority Row, a repulsive, offensive slice of hateful misogyny hiding beneath the thin disguise of a bargain-basement slasher craptacular. Although I’ve yet to experience the original House on Sorority Row, I suspect, based on the opinions of those who’ve seen it, that it bears little of this version’s off-putting ickiness, and it’s utterly inexcusable that this remake, a vile exercise in boredom and brutality, managed to get off scot free. While a Razzie would have been nice, my real hope is that director Stewart Hendler is forced — Clockwork Orange style — to endure this crime against movie-going humanity on a repetitive loop until he comes to understand the evil he hath wrought.

3. Odette Yustman, The Unborn, Worst Actress – Sure, the Worst Actress category had fierce competition this year, but Odette Yustman deserves acknowledgement for failing miserably at portraying a human being. Part Real Doll, part Megan Fox clone, the actress was like a slightly hotter version of Vicki from Small Wonder; rigid, robotic and emotionally cold, without an ounce of life. Certainly, David S. Goyer’s klutzy direction and script didn’t help, but the actress was a veritable gong-show of over-exaggerated facial expressions, droning dialogue delivery and tiresome shrieks and yelps. If Yustman warrants even an iota of praise, it’s that her skimpy wardrobe at least managed to momentarily stir the male contingent of the audience out its deep, apathetic slumber.

2. Rob Zombie and Halloween II, Worst Director and Worst Picture – Why does it deserve to be here? Because it is, in my humble opinion the very worst film of 2009, and no movie as incompetent, moronic and mind-numbing as Halloween II should ever … EVER be denied the chance to represent the very lowliest that cinema has to offer. Thus, I propose that we boot Brad Siberling or Stephen Sommers out of contention and escort — by force, if necessary — Mr. Zombie into their abandoned slot. Further, Halloween II also deserves a shot at the big tamale, so I recommend pulling a similar tactic with that category as well. Because, if we chastise Mr. Hellbilly Deluxe and put a stop to this madness now, our children and children’s children may have a chance to live in a sunny, cheerful world free of unwatchable white trash Halloween films. It’s a modest dream, but it’s one I firmly believe we can make happen.

1. Chris Klein, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Worst Actor - Klein deserves this award for an entirely different reason than the plethora of irredeemably pathetic work listed above. No, unlike his peers, the former American Pie star warrants recognition for being completely and utterly awe-inspiring in the face of unbridled cruddiness. Playing the swaggering cop Charlie Nash — a stubbled, walking, talking representation of machismo-gone-mad — Klein camps it up like a drag queen at a Rocky Horror Picture Show revival, uttering each unspeakable line with a volatile mixture of untamed testosterone and low-grade brain damage. It’s a performance destined for the record books of over-the-top turns — alongside The Wicker Man’s Nicolas Cage, Tango & Cash’s Jack Palance and Gamer’s Michael C. Hall — as well as assured to provide excellent fodder for amusing YouTube tributes like this for eons to come. If I could give the man an Oscar for Amazing Achievement in Awesomeness, I would. Regrettably, though, this avenue feels more realistic, and I think it’s positively criminal that Klein’s iconic work was ignored. “Nash, out!” indeed.

Top 5 Most Unforgivable Oscar Snubs

No Oscar nominations list is perfect. For every five worthy, totally deserving choices, there’s at least one irksome, exasperating snub guaranteed to stick in the collective craw of legions of ardent film fans. Previous years have seen films like The Dark Knight, Wall-E and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as well as sparkling performances such by Paul Giamatti (in Sideways) and Viggo Mortensen and Mario Bello (in A History of Violence), passed over in favor of safer, duller Oscar-bait.
Although this new crop of Oscar nominees is a considerable step up from last year’s largely uninspired and irritating list — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader? Seriously?! — there’s still the odd little missing name or title which deserves serious mention.

So, I’ve compiled the Top 5 most egregious snubs, the poor choices that could have been easily avoided and remedied if a little more care and attention had been paid.

* Just a note before we begin, I’ve purposely left Sam Rockwell’s stellar work in Moon and Tobey Maguire’s revelatory turn in Brothers off this list. Not because they aren’t deserving of heaps of glowing attention, but rather because the five names that already make up the Best Actor nominee category are more than deserving of their recognition and don’t warrant being figuratively bumped. However, if Tim McGraw had been nominated for The Blind Side, or Mark Wahlberg for The Lovely Bones, I’d be singing a very different tune.

5. Drag Me to Hell for Best Makeup — While I’m sure the makeup work in The Young Victoria was gangbusters, few cinematic images were more gloriously memorable in 2009 than the sight of Lorna Raver’s Hag-from-Hell Gypsy sorceress hovering, staples firmly wedged into her repulsive and seemingly ancient wrinkled mug, over a shrieking Alison Lohman. With the sicko geniuses from KNB tirelessly working behind the scenes, conjuring up endless devilishly deranged creations, Sam Raimi’s spook-a-blast spectacular was a veritable showcase for some of the madcap best and most brilliantly disgusting makeup work of the year.

4. Carter Burwell’s score for Where the Wild Things Are for Best Original Score — Say what you will about the film itself, Burwell’s delicate, beautiful music communicates the pain, confusion, wonder and unbridled joy of childhood with seamless efficiency and sensitivity. When paired with Spike Jonze’s often dazzling images, the tingly, chill-inducing results send hearts soaring and rock the collective audiences’ emotions to the very core. If James Horner’s cheerlessly derivative Avatar score — a lazy, under-baked combination of his Titanic and Apocalypto efforts — can win a nomination, it’s criminal that Burwell’s aurally transfixing compositions were ignored.

3. Alfred Molina, An Education, for Best Supporting Actor — Look, we all know at this point that Christoph Waltz is a lock to win in this category, but there’s no reason that room couldn’t have been made to give this esteemed character actor his first career nod. Playing Carey Mulligan’s loving, but uptight, papa, Molina was alternately side-splittingly hilarious and gently heartbreaking; a stubborn, proud family man paralyzed by the lingering uncertainties and wounds of WWII upon his country. Watching Molina’s character go about his daily humdrum existence, anxiously shielded against any potential spark of spontaneity or excitement, it’s impossible not to feel the warmth and compassion burning just beneath his standoffish exterior. As spectacular as Mulligan is, it’s Molina who sticks with us; a quiet, frightened man just wanting to do boundless good for those he loves unconditionally.

2. Marion Cotillard, Nine, for Best Supporting Actress — Rob Marshall’s Nine was a fairly terrible film: a clumsy, superficial mess masquerading as artsy, high-brow entertainment. However, one of the film’s few saving graces was the wounded, passionate performance of Cotillard, whose wronged director’s wife provided fiery energy and emotional pyrotechnics to a project otherwise largely devoid of either quality. Whether having a quiet, devastating revelation while viewing her husband’s test footage or tearing up the stage during her furious “Take It All” number, the actress jolted audiences awake with her verve and raw intensity. Why Penelope Cruz’s serviceable turn as Daniel Day Lewis’s mistress got the golden go ahead while Cotillard got the snub is utterly beyond me. Certainly her exclusion is one of the Academy’s most ridiculous blunders in years.

1. Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds, for Best Supporting Actress — Even though I wasn’t remotely surprised to see Laurent’s name absent from the Oscar nomination list (the precedent had already been set by the numerous preceding year-end awards groups that had ignored her) it was hard not to feel the sting of a true missed opportunity. As Shosanna, the vengeance-seeking Jewish cinema owner responsible for toppling the Nazi party, the actress provided Tarantino’s WWII epic with an aching soulfulness that was a true wonder to behold. Although her character is undoubtedly remembered best for her iconic final appearance, projected across a plume of hellish smoke, Laurent’s subtle handling of the movie’s trickier conversational scenes — sharing a strudel with Waltz’ Landa or engaging in awkward flirty discourse with Daniel Bruhl’s smitten war hero — are equally impactful; unmistakably honest, relentlessly gripping, and bearing the distinctive stamp of a brightly shining new talent hopefully destined for great things.


If a movie’s pre-release potential could be counted in currency, Edge of Darkness would have been a mighty lucrative venture, yes siree! Not only does the project mark the long-awaited return of Mel Gibson – in classic Mad Mel mode, no less - to the acting world, it also boasts a screenplay co-written by The Departed Oscar-winner William Monahan and the capable directorial duties of Martin Campbell, the British helmer responsible for revitalizing James Bond twice with 1995’s GoldenEye and 2006’s Casino Royale. Heck, even the film’s original source material, the highly lauded 1985 BBC mini-series of the same name, is of the utmost calibre.

One would not have been foolish to assume that, given the prestige and obvious strengths of the ridiculously talented individuals involved, the final product would be a solid A-grade mainstream thriller. Sadly, however, they would be very, very wrong, as Edge of Darkness is anything but. Rather, it’s an utterly boring, ungainly mess; an ugly mishmash of loosely connected plot threads that’s tries to be both an intimate revenge tale and a socially relevant conspiracy yarn while failing miserably on both counts.

Regrettable, as Gibson is in fine seething form as Thomas Craven (If there’s a more awesome last name than “Craven”, I’ve yet to hear it), a hard-edged Boston homicide cop whose spritely daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) gets shot-gunned to smithereens in his front yard. Despite initially believing that the hit was intended for him, Craven inevitably winds up following a trail of leads to her former place of work, the Northmoor Corporation, a radioactive waste facility with secret military connections, overseen by slick CEO Jack Bennett (Danny Huston – an actor skilled at playing characters who virtually ooze sleaze). Convinced of a connection between his daughter’s demise and the good folks of Northmoor, Craven sets out to expose the truth behind the obviously crooked company – a complicated task which becomes even thornier with the arrival of Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a shadowy government-appointed “cleaner”, who may or may not hold the answers that the grieving father needs.

Now, in the original six-hour plus televised version (also helmed by Campbell), these events no doubt – considering the voluminous praise surrounding it - played out like an intricately unfolding riddle, with each solved piece of Craven’s puzzle hitting the viewer like an astonishing revelation. But here, streamlined into two hours, Edge of Darkness is confusing and clumsy, with almost every single new surprise delivered to Gibson and the audience via a one-note, exposition-spewing side character (who must, of course, begin each discourse by hysterically stating their refusal to cooperate). The only real exception to this rule is Winstone, whose Herculean efforts in imbuing his enigmatic operative with dramatic heft are akin to witnessing cinematic alchemy. Speaking in an gravelly, earth-rumbling timbre, and making fearsome use of his hulking build, he commands the screen like a true master, making even the direst descriptive dialogue flow as if it had originated from the mighty pen of Sir Billy Shakespeare himself.

Nevertheless, the fine Brit thespian is done no favours by Monahan and Andrew Bovell’s script, which introduces both him and other key players with suitable pomp and circumstance, before abruptly scuttling them off-screen (only to have them later pop up when necessary) in order to regain focus on Craven’s plight. While Jedburgh’s crucial character arc is rushed and emotionally unsatisfying, other actors – such as Jay O. Sanders as Gibson’s cop partner – find themselves more or less stuck in Act 1; factoring heavily in the establishment of the plot before practically vanishing into thin air. Even the character of Emma – the impetus for the whole flippin’ story – does little more than furrow her brow, projectile vomit and take a one-way trip through a closed door. It’s impossible to share Craven’s considerable grief when the movie’s tragic victim is such a forgettable, charisma-deficient blank.

Martin Campbell, a reliable journeyman director, proves unable to bring any life to the inert shambles around him, though he does try valiantly by shoe-horning in a completely pointless, but efficient, Bourne-esque fist-fight and aping Scorsese’s distinctive style of staging shocking bursts of sudden violence – a technique which often comes across as more comical than horrifying. With that said, the helmer has at least fashioned this snoozer into something pretty, with razor-blade editing and an omnipresent cloak of grim moodiness which, while overwhelmingly unpleasant to endure, is mostly consistent (minus the shamelessly unearned sentimental ending) and thematically appropriate.

Frankly, when compared against 2008’s smart and engaging State of Play – another adored BBC mini-series adapted by Hollywood – it’s embarrassing how wildly this picture misfires. It’s a syrup-paced mystery film without an ounce of mystery, where the villains are shallow and unmistakeable and the hero is always ten steps behind even the slowest audience member. Ultimately, Edge of Darkness is a promising endeavour that disastrously crashed somewhere amidst its turbulent journey across the pond.
1.5 out of 5
*Originally printed in SFU's The Peak: Feb. 8th, 2010.